Scott Mayfield was one of the New York Islanders’ best defensemen this season – contributing 2.7 defensive point shares and 109 blocked shots in 61 games – before he suffered a lower-body injury and has been out of the lineup for the last eight games and will miss the rest of the season.
Losing Mayfield has forced the Islanders to call up some of the young defensemen from their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Bridgeport Islanders, to help fill the void. Likewise, the team has been forced to call on some of the young defensemen on the roster to play bigger roles. Mayfield is a tough skater to replace, but some of the Islanders’ young players have stepped up. Here are the three most notable defensemen.
Noah Dobson has stepped up and emerged as one of the best defensemen for the Islanders this season. The 22-year-old has been an excellent puck-handler who can carry the puck into the offensive zone and open up the offense from the point, scoring 10 goals and 30 assists. He has also established himself as one of the best skaters on the blue line, limiting the opposition off the rush and in space.
In Mayfield’s absence, Dobson has been given more responsibility and delivered. He has played crucial minutes on the penalty kill and often plays on the second pairing alongside Zdeno Chara (behind the top pairing of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock).
Arguably, his best moment this season was in the final minutes of the 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 22-year-old and Chara helped the team hold a one-goal lead with great defensive plays against a desperate Blue Jackets team.
Sebastian Aho has been one of the Islanders’ most inconsistent defensemen. After a great shift, he would allow an opponent to find an open shot in the offensive zone on a missed assignment. His inconsistent play forced the Islanders to send him to Bridgeport, and it’s unclear what his future will look like beyond this season.
In the few games played, Aho showed promising signs that he could become a major contributor. He is one of the best skaters on defense and can contribute offensively. This was highlighted when the 26-year-old found the back of the net to open the scoring in a five-goal game against the Blue Jackets, handling the puck and creating an open shot in the offensive zone.
Grant Hutton hasn’t played many games since Mayfield’s injury and has received limited ice time. However, the 26-year-old defenseman has shown promise in his rare contributions. He has a great shot from the point, and despite failing to record a point, he has helped open up the Islanders’ offense and create scoring chances. He could play a larger role in the final weeks of the season and could become a valuable contributor in all three zones with more ice time.
Other Islanders’ Defensemen Have Stepped Up
The Islanders’ defense improved immensely when Pulock returned to the lineup after missing many weeks with a lower-body injury. Now playing alongside Pelech, the Islanders have their top pairing back and have seen their defensive play improve in the second half of the season as a result. The team has struggled to replace Mayfield, but the young players have stepped up and kept the defense as one of the better units in the NHL in the past few weeks.
Mike Fink joined The Hockey Writers in November 2020 and covers the New York Islanders. In addition to covering the Islanders, Fink has written for multiple sports blogs and platforms covering the NHL, NFL, MLB, and college sports. Follow Mike on Twitter @Finks_thoughts for more Islanders and general hockey insights.